Originally posted December 27, 2014:
The Power Plant Men and Women knew that a major downsizing was going to occur throughout the company on Friday, July 29, 1994. The upper management had already experienced the preliminary stages of this particular downsizing since it started at the top. Over a four month period that started with an early retirement, it worked its way down the ranks until the actual Power Plant Men at the plant in North Central Oklahoma were going to be downsized on that one day.
The people that had taken the early retirement (which was available for anyone 50 years and older) had already left a couple of months earlier. Since the downsizing was being decided from the top down, we soon learned that our Plant Manager Ron Kilman would no longer be a Plant Manager. He was too young to take the early retirement. I believe he was 47 at the time.
The person taking Ron’s place was Bill Green, a guy that was old enough to take the early retirement, but decided to stay. Bill was 53 years old at the time. Perhaps he knew in advance that he had a secure position before the deadline to choose the early retirement.
The final week when the downsizing was going to take place, several things were happening that made the entire week seem surreal (this is a word that means — sort of weird and unnatural). I was spending the week in the old Brown and Root building because we were busy training everyone at the plant about Confined Space Safety and the OSHA regulations that we had to follow.
We had to have all the OSHA training completed by August 1 in order to avoid the fines that OSHA had given us back in April (See the post: “Power Plant Men Summoned by Department of Labor“). We had formed a confined space rescue team and taken the required Confined Space training (see the post “Finding and Defining Power Plant Confined Spaces“). We were using the old training room in the old Brown and Root Building because we wanted it to be away from the plant area where the foremen wouldn’t be bothered while they were taking their class.
The first day of training, Ben Brandt the assistant plant manager was in the the class. He was going to be a plant manager at another plant, I think it was the plant in Seminole county.
I could tell that Ben was not interested in being in the training, and given all that was going down that week, I could see why. We would say something in the class about how you had to fill out your confined space permit and turn it in to the Control Room, and Ben would shake his head in disagreement as if he didn’t think that was ever going to happen…. Well, times were changing in more ways than one that week.
Tuesday afternoon was when things really began to get weird…. We knew that Friday would be the last day for a bunch of Power Plant Men, but we didn’t yet know who. During the previous downsizing in 1987 and 1988, we at least knew who was going to leave months before they actually had to leave. Now we were down to just a few days and we still didn’t know who had a job come August 1 (next Monday).
On Tuesday afternoon, one at a time, someone would be paged on the Gaitronics Gray Phone (the plant PA system) by one of the four foremen that had survived.
We were cutting the number of first line foremen in Maintenance from 13 down to 4 and getting completely rid of two levels of management. So, that we would no longer have an A foremen and a Supervisor over each group. So, we wouldn’t have a position like an Electric Supervisor or a Mechanical Maintenance Supervisor.
Our new foremen were Andy Tubbs,
and Mark Fielder.
All great guys!
So, when one of them would page someone on the Gray Phone, we knew that they were going to be asked to meet them upstairs in the main office somewhere. Then they were told that they had a position on that person’s team.
So, picture this scenario. About 160 of the original 218 employees were waiting to learn their fate that week (the rest had retired). It was late Tuesday afternoon when Alan Hetherington told us that they had already begun calling operators to the office to tell them they had jobs. They were not calling anyone to tell them that they didn’t have a job. So, when you heard someone’s name being called, then you knew they were safe (well…. safe is a relative term).
On Wednesday just before lunch, I was called to the office by Alan Kramer. He told me he was going to be my new foreman. I hadn’t really worried about it up to that point, because, well, I just figured that I was pretty well irreplaceable since there really wasn’t anyone else that would go climbing around inside the precipitators during overhauls, so they would want to keep me around for that reason alone.
With that said, it was at least a little less stressful to actually have been told that I did have a position. After all, I had caused so much trouble the previous few years (see 50% of the posts I have written to find out how), enough for some people to hold grudges against me. So, I did have this small doubt in the back of my head that worried about that.
Alan Kramer explained to me that we would no longer have teams for each area of expertise. We wouldn’t have teams of electricians or Instrument and Controls, or Testing, etc. We would be cross-functional teams. We would learn more about that next Monday.
When I returned to the Brown and Root building, the rest of the confined space team asked me if I had a job. I told them I did. At this point, all work at the plant seemed to have ceased. Everyone was waiting around to receive a call on the Gray Phone.
At first, we thought this was going to be like the first downsizing where each person was called to the office and told if they had a job or they didn’t have a job. By Wednesday afternoon, it became apparent that things weren’t working out that way. The only people being called to the office were people that were being told they did have a job. No one was being told if they didn’t.
Either this was a cruel joke being played on the Power Plant Men and Women, or the management hadn’t really thought about the consequences of doing this. It became apparent right away to everyone including those that had been told they had a position that this was a terrible way to notify people about their future. What about those that hadn’t been called to the front office? What were they supposed to think?
About half of the Power Plant Men had received the call, when it seemed that the calls had just stopped some time on Thursday morning. We had finished our last training session in the Brown and Root building and we were just meeting as a team to discuss our next steps in creating Confined Space rescue plans. We were not making much progress, as everyone was just sitting around in a mild state of shock staring into space.
Alan Hetherington had not been called, so he figured that he wouldn’t have a job after Friday. We discussed other people that were being left out. No one on Gerald Ferguson’s team at the coal yard had been called (which included Alan). We later heard that Gerald Ferguson, all distraught that his team had been wiped out was in disbelief that they had let his entire team go. He blamed it on the fact that his team had refused to participate in the Quality Process since it was deemed “voluntary”.
By Thursday afternoon, the stress became so bad for some that they had gone to Jim Arnold and asked him point blank if they had a job after Friday and he refused to say anything to them. Preston Jenkins became so stressed out that he had to go home early because he was too sick with stress.
We knew that Bill Green was the new plant manager.
Jim Arnold was the new Supervisor of Operations and Jasper Christensen was the Supervisor of Maintenance. It seemed to us as if the downsizing was being orchestrated by Jim Arnold, as he was the one going all over the plant on Thursday and Friday coordinating things.
When we came into the office on Friday morning, all the radios had been taken from the electric shop office. I was asked to go up to the logic room and shutdown the Gray phone system. It became clear that Jim Arnold didn’t want anyone listening to what was going on throughout the day.
It was normal having Highway Patrol at the plant, because they were the regular plant guards at the front gate, but today there were a lot of them, and they were in uniform. They were escorting people off of the plant grounds one at a time. We were told that we were not supposed to interact with people being escorted off of the plant grounds. We weren’t supposed to approach them to even say goodbye.
It took the entire day to escort people out of the plant this way. It was very dehumanizing that great Power Plant Men who we had all worked alongside for years were suddenly being treated as if they were criminals and were being escorted off of the plant grounds by armed Highway Patrolmen.
It was just as devastating for those that were left behind. This was a clear indication that those people treating our friends this way were going to be our new supervisors (not our immediate foremen) and that they had a warped sense of superiority. They may have justified their actions in their minds in order to sleep at night, but the reality was that at least one person involved in this extraction of humanity was relishing in his new found power.
No one had been more left behind than the plant manager, Ron Kilman who was too young to accept the retirement package.
He knew he didn’t have a future with the company for the past couple of months as this entire saga had been unfolding at the plant. During the early retirement party for those that were leaving before the slaughter took place, Ron (an avid airplane pilot) had worn a shirt that said, “Will Fly for Food”, which he revealed by opening his outer shirt while introducing some of the retirees. This had brought an applause that was reminiscent of the first day he had arrived some seven years earlier when he told a joke during his first meeting with the plant.
There were those at the plant that had reason to dislike Ron for specific decisions that he had made during his tenure at the plant. One that comes to mind (that I haven’t already written about) is when Ray Eberle’s house was on fire and he left the plant to go fight the fire and make sure his family was safe. Ron docked his pay for the time he was not on the plant grounds since he wasn’t a member of the voluntary fire department. Ron has admitted since that time that there were certain decisions he made while he was Plant Manager that he would have changed if he could.
I felt as if I understood Ron, and knew that he was a good person that wanted to do the right thing. I also knew there were times when a Plant Manager had to make unpopular decisions. I also knew from my own experience that Ron, like everyone else was just as much human as the rest of us, and would occasionally make a decision he would later regret. The times when Ron tried docking my pay after working long overtime hours, I just worked around it by taking vacation to keep my overtime and figured that he was playing the role of Plant Manager and following the rules the way he saw fit.
Some time shortly after lunch, Ron came into the electric shop office and sat down. This was the first time in those seven years that he had come just for a visit and it was on his last day working for the company. Ron just didn’t know what to do.
He explained that no one had told him anything. No one had officially told him to leave. No one had escorted him off of the plant grounds. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to make his exit. Was he just supposed to go to his car and drive out the gate and never return? No one told him anything.
The way Ron Kilman was treated Friday, July 29, 1994, was a clear representation of the type of people that were left in charge next Monday morning on August 1. The entire plant knew this in their heart. As much grief that was felt by the people being escorted out of the gate after years of loyal service to their company, those that were left behind felt every bit of that grief.
This was the darkest day in the history of the Power plant in North Central Oklahoma. The Power Plant Men left behind by this experience were negatively effected for years after that day. There was a bitterness and sorrow that took a long time to recover in their hearts.
The worst part of the event was that it was so unnecessary. We understood that we had to downsize. We had accepted that some of us would be leaving. Each person at our plant had a level of decency that would accept the fact that when the time came for them to leave, they would hug their friends, say goodbye and with the help of each other, the rest would help them carry their stuff to their car and say goodbye.
We were all robbed of this opportunity. Everyone, even those left behind, were suddenly treated as if we were criminals. We had a “Black Friday” at the plant before, on February 15, 1985 (see the post “Power Plant Snitch“). This time the impact was ten times worse.
All I can say to those who made the decision to handle the layoff this way is: “Shame on you! What would your Mother think if she knew what you did?”
Originally posted December 28, 2013:
Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment. I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.
Like I said…. Times were changing. The digital era was being introduced to the power industry. We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized. Other areas of the plant were going to be next. Especially the employees. Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.
Side story time:
I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old. My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.
This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received. I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up. Ralphie had nothing on me that day.
It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie. I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe (pronounced “pass A”). All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule. It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.
I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“. He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test. He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.
The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps. Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps. The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game. We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.
Anyway. Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming. During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator. Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.
After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”. It had actual programs in it in Basic. I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own. He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games. One was called Starflight:
The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:
When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer. Up until that time, every time my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers. I never had really considered buying one. But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives! And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.
So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?” I asked her, “Are you sure? Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer. I’ll be playing on it all the time.” She said, “No. I want you to go buy one.” So we turned around and went back to the mall.
That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.
End of Side Story.
As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older. They would give them full benefits to leave. This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.
We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house. A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off. Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party. Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.
I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like. It was very top-down, if you know what I mean. It was like, “Because I told you so.” No need to explain anything. That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.
I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable electric rate or even a set number of customers. The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.
It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones. It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight. I think the company was making a bold move. I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.
So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring. Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.
Then the following Monday. I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management. That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.
I remember a certain part of the meeting very well. Ron said something funny. It didn’t matter exactly what he said. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably something self-deprecating. I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs). I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”
Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post: Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“. This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”
Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years. The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period. During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.
All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart. Old School management training left a lot to be desired.
During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes. Some I have alluded to already. Such as the move to computerize everything. The other was a total change in how management works. Or at least that was the attempt.
People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant. Many of these things were successful. Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around. The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.
I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred. It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt. I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?” When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”
Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought. Blame and punish the culprit. Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle! We aren’t going to change because I say so.” We all had to agree. He was definitely the obstacle.
Ron’s approach was one more like a leader. “Let’s get the job done right.” Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.
Well… I will say no more for now… I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year. I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.
Comments from the original post:
Comments from the last repost:
I was considered the one that “got away”. Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason. I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001. I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown. But… that was the way I had arrived on May 14, 1979, 22 years earlier.
Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas. When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into… The day I left I was in the exact same boat.
So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason. With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time. Let me tell you about this experience….
I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January. My start date had been set for June 4, 2001. They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May. I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire. I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.
I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that an Power Plant electrician racked up in a year. I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight. Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.
For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends. It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma. We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.
While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees. The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company. Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter. This was disheartening to say the least.
Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees. My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer. It just seemed like the right place to go. So, we decided to just go along with it.
We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.
I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June. We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1. I would start work the following Monday. Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.
On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign. I had stayed home that morning for that reason. We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.
At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed. Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later). The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”
Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that. He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July. I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money. He said he would see what he could do about that.
I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds. I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.
The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house. Everything was in motion. It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.
I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months. I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.” I thanked her, and hung up the phone.
Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres. When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier. I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house. Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.
When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off. We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29. I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).
A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day. The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.
When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“). The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.
I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave. Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version. So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.
As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave. She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years. I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.
With that I climbed in my car and drove away.
When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived. Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater. We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.
I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away. I thought I’m really going to miss this house…. I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.
Then it suddenly hit me…. What about my family? What about all those people I have just left behind? When am I ever going to see them? The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on. It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.
My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.
The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur. I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world. I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it. I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.
To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas. I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason. After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.
My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?” My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will. I haven’t thought about it.”
That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college. I told him. “I don’t know. I was thinking about becoming a writer.” His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?” I replied, “Maybe I will. I haven’t thought about it.”
August 16, 2001 was my final day at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I had stepped onto the plant grounds May 4, 1979, 22 years earlier. Now I was leaving to change careers and moving to Round Rock, Texas to work for Dell Computers. During my final day, a going away party was held in my honor by the Power Plant Men and Women that I had the privilege to work alongside during the past 22 years.
A few minutes before the party began, I slipped into the office bathroom/locker room and changed into a navy blue suit and tie. Combed my hair. Put on black socks with my shiny black shoe. Grabbed my briefcase and headed for the break room. When I walked in the room, it was packed full of Power Plant Men and Women all waiting to say goodbye to one of their family.
Many wondered who it was that had joined their party of one of their own. Who was this person in the suit and tie? Ed Shiever told me later that he didn’t even recognize me. It wasn’t until I reached out and shook his hand that he realized that his was Kevin Breazile. The same person he had known since he was a temp employee working in the tool room.
When the Power Plant Men finally realized that I was the person they had been waiting for, they broke out in applause as I walked around shaking their hands. I would have broke out in tears if I hadn’t been thinking about what a great person each of them had been over the many years we had known each other.
I made my way to the front of the room where I had set up a computer and hooked it to the big screen TV. I had a special surprise waiting for them. One that would temporarily change the plant policy on going away parties after I was gone. I had prepared a special PowerPoint presentation for them.
I set my briefcase next to the computer on the end of the table acting as if the computer had nothing to do with the party. Then I stood there as the “going away” part of the party began.
It was typical for people to stand up and tell a story or two about the person leaving, so Jim Arnold (the Supervisor of Maintenance and part time nemesis) was first. He explained how I had been working on SAP for the past three years creating tasks lists that are used to describe each possible job in the plant.
He turned to me and asked me how many task lists I had created in the last 3 years. I replied, “About 17,800”. Jim said that this boggled his mind. It was three times more than the entire rest of the company put together.
Jim made a comment about how he wasn’t sure he would want a job where you have to dress up in a suit and tie.
Andy Tubbs stood up and presented me with my 20 year safety sticker and a leather backpack for working 20 years without an accident, which was completed on August 11, just 5 days before. I had worked four summers as a summer help, which counted as one year of service, then I had completed 19 years as a full time employee that very same week.
I like being roasted, but that didn’t really happen. A few other people told some stories about me, that I can’t recall because I was busy thinking about the PowerPoint presentation. I had memorized my entire script, and the presentation was pretty much automatic and timed, and I had to keep to my script or pause the presentation.
Then Jim Arnold asked me (Bill Green, the Plant Manager was gone that day visiting the Muskogee Plant) if I had anything I would like to say before I left…. That was the cue I had been waiting for. I replied, “Actually, I have a PowerPoint presentation right here, and I hit a key, and the TV lit up….
I will present each of the 26 slides below with the comments I made during each one. Since many of the slides are animated, I will try to describe how that worked as I made my presentation… so, hang on… this is going to be a lot of slides…. I broke it down into about 45 pictures. The Script is what I said for each slide:
Remember when Mark Draper came here for a year and when he was getting ready to leave he gave a presentation about where he thought we were doing well, and how we could improve ourselves?
I thought that since I have spent 20 years with you guys I might be able to come up with a few comments. Especially as opinionated as I am.
In 1979, I came to work here as a summer help. The plant was still being built and I was really impressed with the special quality of people I met and looked up to.
Script continues as these three pictures slide in:
Like for instance there was Sonny Karcher and another was Jerry Mitchell. It has been a while since I have seen these two guys, and I know that Jerry has passed on, but this is the way I remember them.
And of course Larry Riley was there.
Larry was the one I worked with back then that seemed to know what was going on. I will always consider him a good friend.
When I was on Labor Crew I would call him “Dad”. He would never own up to it. He said I was never the same after I fell on my head when I was a kid.
I used to get real dirty when I worked in the coal yard right alongside Jerry Mitchell. He would stay perfectly clean. He told me that I knew I was good when I could keep myself clean. —
Well. I have found a better way to do that. And once again I would like to thank OG&E for paying for my education.
I encourage all the new guys to seriously consider taking advantage of the free education benefit.
Then of course there was our Plant Manager and Assistant Manager back then.
This is how I remember them.
After hiring on permanently as a janitor in ’82, and getting on Labor crew in the spring of ’83. I was able to get into the electric shop in November 1983.
I vividly remember my first day as an electrician. The first thing I worked on, I shorted it to ground.
Script continues as Charles Foster’s picture slides in:
With no prior experience as an electrician I was allowed to join the electric shop. Charles Foster was instrumental in getting me into the shop, and I am grateful. As everyone knows, Charles is a long time friend of mine.
For years and years Charles would tell the story about how he fought tooth and nail for me against the evil Plant Manager and His diabolic Assistant who wanted me to be banished to the Labor Crew for eternity.
Not too long ago I told Charles that if he hadn’t pushed so hard to get me into the electric shop, I probably would have left OG&E and went back to school years ago ( like my mom wanted me to do), and made something of myself long before now.
These are the electricians that were there when I first joined the electric shop. These are the only ones left. I think we started out with 16.
The electricians were always a tight knit group. It amazed me to see a electricians who couldn’t stand each other sit down and play dominos three times a day, every day, year after year.
Jimmie Moore joined the shop some time later.
And of course. Bill Bennett was around back then.
When I arrived in the electric shop I was 23 years old and I replaced Diana Brien as the youngest electrician in the shop. As I leave, I am almost 41 years old, and I am still the youngest electrician. As I leave, I relinquish the title back to Diana Brien who once again will be the youngest electrician.
As a side note…. I don’t know why I forgot about Ben Davis. He reminded me after the presentation… I don’t know how… Here is a picture of Ben:
I suppose you all remember what happened on February 15th, 1985. The day we refer to as “Black Friday”. The day that the “Drug and Theft” ring was busted at Sooner Station. That was the day that a very dear friend of mine, Pat Braden, whom everyone knew as a kind easy going person turned out to be some evil leader of a theft ring.
Note: As I was saying the above statement, This mummy walked across the slide…
Note: Then Barney slide across in the other direction…
Well. I know better than that. I will always remember Pat Braden with a smile on his face. Mickey Postman, I know you would agree with me about Pat and just about everyone else who knew him well.
It has been 16 years since this took place and the company has gone through a lot of changes, but don’t ever think something like this couldn’t happen again.
Note… The hammers come in and stomp the images off the slide….
Then there was the first Reorganization. The old people retired on October 1st. That was the end of the Moler and Waugh regime.
At first we thought we were all on vacation. Our new plant manager came in the first meeting with us and told a joke.
We all looked at each other and wondered, “Can plant managers even do that?”
I’m sure you guys remember Ron Kilman. Bless his heart.
The second part of the first reorganization allowed people without jobs to find a position in the company over a 8 month period.
Note: Pictures of Scott Hubbard fly in along with the words: “Hubbard Here!” then each one disappears leaving this:
That is when Scott Hubbard joined the electric shop.
Scott and I drove to work together for a long time and we became good friends.
I’ll miss Scott when I leave. I’ll remember that “Hubbard is Here”, while I’ll be down there – in Texas.
Do you remember the Quality Process? They said it was a process and not a program because when a program is over it goes away, and a process is something that will always be here. — Yeah right.
Note: While I was saying this, the screen all of the sudden went dark as I kept talking… I could tell that people wondered if I realized that the presentation had suddenly disappeared….
This is all we have left of the Quality Process.
When I said the line “This is all we have left of the Quality Process” pointing my thumb over my shoulder with a look of disappointment on my face, the room suddenly burst out into cheers and applause as they realized that the blank screen represented the current state of the Quality process at the plant.
The first reorganization was done in a somewhat orderly manner.
They retired the old guys out first and brought in the new management, then they informed those that didn’t have positions and gave them time to find a job before they let them go.
Note: The sounds of gun shots were barely heard from the computer speaker, as splats occurred on the slide until it looked like this:
The second reorganization. Well. It was a massacre.
It was a very lousy way to do this, and very humiliating.
Jim Arnold at this point was about to jump out of his chair and stop the show, so I was quick to go to the next slide…
With the redesign came another Plant Manager. One of the first things I remember about Bill Green was that one morning I was stopped at the front gate and given a 9 volt battery for my smoke detector.
I took the battery home and put it in my smoke detector, and – guess what? – The battery was dead. And I thought, “Oh well. These things happen.”
Well a couple of years later, there was Bill Green handing out smoke detector batteries again.
I checked it out and sure enough, it was dead also.
Note: As I was talking during this slide, the marbles dropped in and bounced around then at the end the hat and moustache landed on Bill Green.
I am just wondering. I want to test out a theory I have. How many of you was given a dead battery?
— OK, I see. Just the trouble makers. I understand. It all makes sense to me now.
Second Note: Bill Green had a jar full of marbles and each color represented a type of injury someone has when they do something unsafe. Most of the marbles were blue and meant that nothing happened, the other colors represented increasingly worse injuries. Two marbles in the jar signified fatalities.
The numbers went like this:
Out of 575 incidents where someone does something unsafe, here are the consequences:
390 Blue Marbles: Nothing happens
113 Green Marbles: A First Aid injury
57 White Marbles: A Recordable Accident
8 Pink Marbles: Up to 30 days lost work day injury occurs
5 Red Marbles: 60 or more lost workdays injury occurs
2 Yellow Marbles: A Fatality occurs
The Maintenance workers are the best people I know. Everyone one of them has treated me with respect, and I consider each of you a friend.
You are the people I will miss. Not the coal dust, not the fly ash. — Just the people.
Note: Over the next set of slides, I showed the Power Plant Men I worked with… I will show you a couple of pictures of some slides to show you the animation that I had slide in and I’ll explain them.. I didn’t say much during the following slides. They flashed by fairly quickly:
Note: The circle with the slash over Bob Blubaugh represented him being recently fired… The story around this is on some of the last slides… and was a tragedy. The military cap landed on Randy Daily (in the lower right) because he was an Army Medic and was always in charge when it came to safety.
The donut flew up to Danny Cain because if there was ever free food somewhere, Danny would find it… Especially if they were donuts.
The words “Huh, Huh?” flew to Jody Morse, because he had the habit of saying something and ending his sentence with “Huh, Huh?”
Note: That was the end of the pictures of the Maintenance Power Plant Men…. I didn’t have pictures of the Operators, and they weren’t at the party…
Without these two, you wouldn’t get paid, and you wouldn’t get parts.
I agree with what Jerry Osborn said about Linda Shiever. There isn’t anyone out here that can do the job Linda does every day.
The maintenance foremen have treated me with respect and I would like to thank all of you for that.
Note: Then Jim Arnold flew in:
I realize that you have to do certain things some times because there is someone looking over your shoulders directing every move you make.
Note: At this point, Jim leaned forward in his chair to get a better look… wondering if that was his face on this picture of God…
Yes, Jim Arnold does take care of us, and we know that he doesn’t want to retire and leave us to fend for ourselves.
Note: There was a policy where you could retire once your age and years of service added up to 80 years. Jim Arnold’s added up to 100, but wouldn’t retire.
Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold:
Therefore he has devised a plan in case of an untimely death.
So don’t be smilin’ too big!!
Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold….
He will be able to direct the plant operations from his heavenly throne.
So don’t worry. He is NOT going away.
Second Note: At this point the PowerPoint presentation locked up on the computer… I had to shut down the presentation and restart it, and quickly go back to the next slide… I remembered the Alt-F4 closes the active application, so I was able to do this within about 15 seconds.
Do you remember when Bill Moler decided that you had to wear a hardhat to go fishin’ in the discharge?
He said it was because he wanted everyone to be safe.
As you can see, this made Johnny Keys rather upset.
Note: As I was speaking, Hardhats dropped onto the people:
Some bird might fly overhead and drop something on you.
Everyone knew the real reason. He didn’t want anyone fishing out there so he was making it more difficult to do that.
He used “Safety” as an excuse. Because of this, he lost credibility when it came to safety issues.
Note: The Hard hats disappeared and Cell phones and pagers dropped down as I said the following:
When you start making policies that use safety as an excuse, but it isn’t the real reason, you lose your credibility.
Second Note: At this point, Jim Arnold was jumping up from his seat… You see, Jim Arnold had fired Bob Blubaugh a few months earlier because Bob carried a cell phone with him when while he was working. Jim told him he couldn’t use his cell phone during the day. When Bob refused to stop carrying a cell phone Jim Arnold fired him for insubordination.
Today that seems crazy as everyone carries cell phones. Jim’s excuse was that carrying a cell phone was not safe, though he couldn’t exactly explain why.
That’s why Jim jumped out of his chair… I thought it was over, and I had two more slides to go…. So, I quickly clicked to the next slide… and Jim sat back down…. whew….
I would like to say goodbye to Doug Black. I have been blessed to have been able to spend time with you the past three years.
Then Doug slid off the slide leaving a picture of Toby:
I would like to say goodbye to Toby, you have been a good friend, and I’ll stay in touch.
Note: Then Toby slid off and Ray Eberle’s picture was left:
Ray, I had to hide this picture from you, because you sat next to me as I created this presentation. I just want to say that the last three years we have spent working on SAP have meant a lot to me and you will always be one of my best friends. Thank you.
With that I will say “Good bye” to all of you. Thank you!
Note: This is a picture of Jim Arnold and Louise Kalicki stepping off of Air Force One. I super-imposed their faces over Bill and Hillary Clinton.
This is the end of the presentation…. With that I was ready to leave the plant and begin the next stage of my life. I will explain more in the post next week.
After I had left, I heard that when the next person had a going away party, Bill Green announced that PowerPoint Presentations are no longer allowed during going away parties!
Originally posted December 13, 2014.
It seemed like it was getting dark already when Scott Hubbard and I were driving home from the plant in Scott’s pickup on January 16, 1991. We were listening to NPR on the radio, as we did most days. Just as we were entering Stillwater on Hwy 177, NPR suddenly stopped their regular broadcast to announce that there were reports of bombs dropping in Baghdad.
Up to this point, we had all hoped that Saddam Hussein, seeing the massive buildup of the U.S. and other countries at his border would pull his forces out of Kuwait and go home. At 5 pm Central Standard Time (2 am Baghdad time), the week long air assault on Saddam Hussein’s troops began. Scott dropped me off at the church where he had picked me up 9 1/2 hours earlier and I drove straight home. Glued to the radio for any new update.
When I arrived home, my wife Kelly met me by the door to tell me the news. By the expression on my face, she could tell I had already heard. I was not able to speak. I just gave her a hug and broke out in tears. As much as we knew that this was necessary, and even though we had watched the buildup over the previous three months, I was not prepared for the actual assault to begin.
For the next five hours we watched as Peter Arnett and his camera man reporting from their hotel room in the middle of Baghdad showed actual footage of anti-aircraft fire continuously firing into the night sky. We could see our bombs hitting carefully determined targets. The battle was taking place right in our living room.
My brother Gregory T. Breazile was (and still is) a U.S. Marine officer in Saudi Arabia preparing for the ground assault. We had been able to talk to him a few days earlier when AT&T setup a bank of phones in the desert so that the soldiers could phone home. – On a side note… my mom was not too happy when she received a very large bill from AT&T for the phone calls to her house. She called AT&T and complained. I think they gave her a refund.
I went to sleep that night after the sun had come up in Baghdad, and even though the bombings were continuing, the initial impact of what was happening had finally been processed in my brain.
The next day at work the radios around the Power Plant were all tuned to stations that were keeping everyone updated on the progress of the Gulf War (Desert Storm, they were calling it). I had a job for the next week or so organizing the old Brown and Root electrical parts warehouse. This was a long tedious job that consisted of going through boxes of all sorts of electric parts and organizing them into meaningful piles of good junk.
I drove one of the pickups over to the warehouse and positioned it so that the passenger side door was lined up with the door to the warehouse. Then I turned the volume on the radio all the way up so that I could hear it in the warehouse. It was an AM radio that didn’t have receptions inside the warehouse. I didn’t want to miss any new information about what was going on in Iraq. The radio in the truck didn’t have reception when it was in the warehouse, so I would carry (or drag) the boxes toward the front of the warehouse so that I could be close enough to hear the radio.
After one week of constant bombing and after the U.S. along with our allies which consisted mostly of Britain, France and Saudi Arabia along with another 30 countries around the globe had flown over 100,000 bombing missions and dropped over 88,000 tons of bombs on Iraq’s army, the U.S. was finally ready for the ground assault.
Soon after the ground assault began, it became apparent that Iraq’s troops were no match for the U.S.. Their Soviet tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft found it difficult to inflict a dent on the side of one of our tanks. It was apparent that the United States had won the arms race and the demise of the Soviet Union was right around the corner (exactly 11 months later on December 26, 1991). All they could do was blindly send some SCUD missiles toward us hoping to hit a target…. any target. The most casualties that occurred on the allies was when a SCUD missile hit a barrack in the middle of the desert killing 28 soldiers.
My brother Greg was attached to the first Marine Division and was part of the group that attacked the Iraqi Republican Guard at the Kuwait Airport. He later described the battle something like this…. “Rockets were being fired in both directions. Bombs exploding all over the place. The entire scene seemed like chaos. Even though it looked like it was a fierce battle, it was as if we were being protected somehow. Throughout the entire siege, we didn’t experience so much as one broken fingernail as we cleared the enemy from the airport.”
The ground assault lasted exactly 100 hours. In that time Kuwait was liberated, and the Republican Guard was decimated.
The Power Plant Men and Women did what they could to show their support for our troops. A great many of the Power Plant Men had served in the Vietnam War and they were proud patriots. There might have been a few that felt like we had no business there in the first place, but those that I remember weren’t the real Power Plant Men.
The critics of the first Gulf War said that freeing Kuwait from their Iraqi invaders was all about oil. That was pretty evident when Saddam Hussein set over 700 oil wells on fire as his troops were being driven out of Kuwait. Kuwait’s main product is oil. That’s hardly debatable.
The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma knew the importance of energy to our country, and a fight over oil is just about as serious as it gets. Those people who criticize our protection of the oil fields in Kuwait by saying that this was just a fight over oil lack the same perspective as Power Plant Men. A steady flow of energy in our lives is essential to our way of life.
A response to that may be that maybe (… “may be that maybe”…. interesting way of saying that… I’m sure my English Teacher would have had something to say about that one) our way of life needs to be changed. I would agree with that, but I would argue that it needs to be changed for the better. Let me try to explain what Power Plant Men across our country know each morning when they awaken.
From the alarm clock that rings in the morning that wakes the Power Plant Man, to the light in the bathroom where they take their shower with hot water, energy is being supplied to their house either through electricity or some sort of natural gas or oil. The act of eating breakfast, whether it is eating a bowl of cereal with milk that has been cooled in the refrigerator or frying some eggs, all this takes energy.
All the Power Plant Men had to drive to the Power Plant located out in the country 20 miles from the nearest towns (except for Red Rock or Marland where few people lived). It would be hard to produce the electricity at the plant if the Power Plant Men and Women didn’t have gasoline to drive their cars to work each and every day. Even if they had an electric car, they would have to charge it with electricity that comes from a power plant that is either powered from coal or natural gas for the most part.
Sure we have a dream of a world where all cars are electric all charged with electricity that is generated without fossil fuels. That is a noble dream and the struggle to reach that point some day is one worth having, but today it doesn’t exist. We can’t transition to that world overnight. In the meantime, the free flow of oil is and should be one of our greatest priorities.
Power Plant Men live with this priority every day. The free flow of electricity to our nation is just as vital. Look at the disasters that happen when a region of the United States suddenly goes dark. Each Power Plant Man and Woman plays their part in ensuring that never happens.
Each Electric Company employee has a picture in the back of their mind of someone laying on an operating table and as the surgeon is in the middle of the operation, the lights suddenly go out. Or an elevator full of people travelling up around the 20th floor of a building when all of the sudden it stops and they are trapped in the dark. What then? No Power Plant Man wants that to happen.
So, how do you thank someone who has freely risked their life serving our country? Someone who is willing to die for our country? How can you? Who am I that others should be willing to die for me? All I can think of doing is to pray “God Bless Them”.
Some Power Plant veterans may have wished they could have been there fighting with their brothers in arms in the Gulf War. The truth is, those men were needed right where they were. The best way to thank our troops during the Gulf War was by showing that we supported what they were doing and by continuing to perform our daily tasks of keeping the lights on at home by producing a steady flow of electricity. Day in and day out without fail.
The reason we take electricity for granted is because the Power Plant Men and Women in this country has been performing their job nearly flawlessly. it is almost like the words my brother used to describe the battle at the Kuwaiti Airport, “it was as if we were being protected somehow”. There are so many things that can go wrong that could bring down the electric grid in the United States, it is amazing that we are able to depend on electricity being there when we turn on the TV.
So, how do you thank the Power Plant Men and Women that work each day to bring us that reliable source of energy? How can we? Certainly the service they provide is far more than the salary and benefits provided by the Electric Company. We can show our appreciation by letting them know that we support them.
When you see an Electric Company truck driving down the road, smile at them and wave. When you run across a Power Plant Man eating lunch at Braum’s, buy him a cup of coffee.
Power Plant Men generally spend the majority of their waking hours in isolation at a Power Plant where they don’t directly see the benefit of their labor. All they experience is their paycheck every couple of weeks and their benefits. They don’t often willingly leave their job to go work somewhere else. They spend their entire working life laboring to produce electricity for others.
If there is a Power Plant Man in your neighborhood, maybe you could give them some small Christmas present this holiday to show your appreciation for the service they have been providing you and your family this year.
If there is a soldier living nearby, do the same. Find any opportunity to show them you appreciate their service to our country. A Braum’s Gift Card perhaps!
About a year after I had joined the electric shop at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, when it was my week to be the truck driver in Fall of 1984, I had an conversation with a contract electrician that I have never forgotten. It was with a guy named Mark Meeks. I have talked about him before in the post entitled, “Life Cycle of a Power Plant Lump of Coal“.
At the time, Mark was working as a contract help for the electric shop. He had been hired to help Mike Rose and Bill Ennis to work on Freeze Protection. I was driving him to the coalyard. He was telling me how he liked working on a job for a while and then he would move on to do another job working somewhere else.
I replied back that I liked having a job where no one had ever been laid off. The electric company had been in existence for about 70 years and had never had a downsizing. I noticed that when I said that, Mark paused and thought about what I said. I was not surprised when a few weeks later, Mark was hired as a plant electrician in the shop.
I’m not saying that no one was ever fired from a power plant. I’m just saying that there wasn’t a general downsizing where a group of people were laid off. After all. you can’t really ship the jobs overseas. Not when you want to provide electricity to Oklahoma City. So, as long as you did your job and showed up to work on time, you had job until it was time to retire. That type of job security sure felt good.
All good things have to come to an end at some point. Toward the end of 1986, Martin Louthan, the Superintendent over all the Power Plants, came to our plant to talk to us. He told us that when our plant was created, it was engineered so that it would accommodate 6 units. At the time we had two. He said that when they staffed the plant, they hired enough people to operate and maintain four units.
He explained that when the oil boom went bust in 1982, it changed everything. The demand for electricity dropped instead of increased as the company had projected. So, our power plant had too many employees for the foreseeable future. We were going to have to downsize. At the time we had over 350 employees.
I think we all knew that we had too many employees at the time. There was a lot of downtime when the maintenance crews had to look for something to do. There are innumerable “for instances” I could bring up. Like times when a team of welders had to go weld something at the train gate, which would normally take a couple of hours. Instead of having it done by lunch time, the crew would park their truck at the train gate, way out where no one would bother them, and listen to the radio for a week.
There were a lot of times like these where there just wasn’t enough work during a regular work week to keep everyone busy. Everyone seemed to have their own special place where they could go take a nap if they needed one. I think we all figured that they kept us all around because when it came time for overhaul, everyone was hard at work making all kinds of overtime. Anyway. We knew it was true. There were too many employees at our plant. Especially since we weren’t going to be expanding anytime soon.
So, here is how the company decided to downsize the company. They offered everyone a “Voluntary Separation Package.” (Or VSP as we refer to it at Dell where I work today – or I did when I originally wrote this post… Now I work at General Motors). They would give you so many weeks of pay for every year of service you had with the company. I don’t remember the exact amount. The employees had until a certain date to decide.
Employees that were over 55 years old would be able to take an early retirement package that would amount to a normal retirement if they had stayed until they had reached retirement age. Our retirement pension plan had grown large enough that it could comfortably absorb those who would early retire. You had until a certain date when you had to decide whether or not you would take the early retirement.
There was one caveat to the taking the Voluntary Separation Package or the early retirement. You had to decide to take one of these options before you were told if your permanent position with the company was going to be terminated at the end of the year. That is, if by the end of June, if you didn’t take the package, then in July if you were told that your position was being eliminated, then the package and retirement was no longer an option. So, if you doubted your “good standing” with the company, you probably would be inclined on taking the retirement package if you were old enough.
In the electric shop I think we had one person old enough to retire. Bill Ennis. He decided to stick it out and hope that his position would still be around. Bill was a good worker, so if that had anything to do with it, he was in good shape. Only one person in our shop decided to take the Voluntary Separation Package.
It broke my heart the day that Arthur Hammond told me he was going to take the package. He only had three years with the company, so his package wasn’t going to be that big, but there was a lump sum associated with it as well. I explained his decision in the post “Power Plant Arguments with Arthur Hammond“. Arthur was a dear friend of mine. I feared that he hadn’t thought this decision through. On one hand, he was used to moving from job to job like Mark Meeks as a Contract electrician. On the other hand, he was raising a family who would benefit from a stable income without having to move from place to place.
The one an only good thing about Arthur Hammond leaving was that Scott Hubbard moved to the electric shop in his place. This was fortunate for Scott because the testing team was not surviving the downsizing and his position was surely going away. I had a bias toward the testers from their inception because when I was on the labor crew, we had not been allowed to apply for the testing jobs. I was also biased because Scott was replacing my friend Arthur. I explained this in the post: “Take a Note Jan, Said the Supervisor of Power Production“. As it turned out, Scott and I became like brothers. We worked together for years, and carpooled most of the time after he joined the shop.
As a side note. I ‘fessed up to Scott one day while we were driving home from work…. He was driving, and I told Scott, “I just want you to know that when you first came to the electric shop. I didn’t like you. It wasn’t anything you did. I just didn’t like you because you were on the testing team.” When I told Scott that, I could tell that he was uncomfortable and that he felt hurt by what I was saying. He turned his head away from me. I went on…. “When I came to know you while we have worked together, I just want you to know that you have become one of my best friends. I am sorry that I had prejudged you. I just wanted to let you know. I’m glad we are on the same team.”
So, what does this have to do with Bif? Well, Lynn “Bif” Johnson and Mark Meeks were two of the few people left that were told on the “day of reckoning” that their jobs were going way.
I remember how our entire team was called up to the front office. We waited in Leroy Godfrey’s office. (He was early retiring). They called us one at a time to Bill Moler’s office (He was early retiring also). There we were told that who we would be working for.
Gary Wehunt had been sure that he was going to be axed. I think by that time we knew that the electric shop needed to downsize one more person. Gary was shocked when he was told he still had his job. He was going to be working for Andy Tubbs on the same team I was on. — Of course, in my own cocky 26 year old way, I never thought I would be let go.
Mark Meeks was told he would no longer be employed at the end of the year. The same was true for Bif Johnson. The company offered to help find a job somewhere in the company if there was position left vacant that needed a person with your skills. They also provided a service to help you create a resume and would help you find a job so that by the end of the year, you wouldn’t just be sent packing.
Mark called up some of his contract buddies and was soon on his way to another job. He had been a contract electrician for so long, this was “Situation Normal” (which is the first two words for the acronym “SNAFU”) for him. I thought it was ironic that he should be the one person from the electric shop that was laid off when I knew that the reason he had applied for the position in the first place was most likely because he thought he could be there until he retired, as we had discussed that day in the truck a couple of years earlier.
I later learned that before Leroy Godfrey early retired he had singled out Mark Meeks and had seen to it that he was the person that was going to be laid off because he had said something to Leroy one day that had annoyed him. Much like the comment I had made to Leroy one day when he went to Bill Bennett and told him to fire me. See the Post: “Chief Among the Power Plant Machinists ” As Bill Bennett explained. Leroy wanted to make sure that Mark was included in the downsizing. It was his gift to him.
So, what about Bif? With all the help offered by the company to find a new position and five months to find a new job, what happened to Bif? Well. Bif had the attitude that I had, though he is 10 years older than me. He had it in his mind that for some reason the plant couldn’t do without him…. or maybe it was more like the attitude I have at my current job. “I am going to stay here until you make me leave.” The last day of the year came around…. Bif was no longer working for the electric company.
It seems like there were two people at the plant at the end of the year that had their positions eliminated that decided to remain at the plant up until the last day of the year (Off hand, I have forgotten who the other person was). Neither of them had sought help from the company to find another position in the company or even outside the company. They were really only laid off because they chose to be. The company had offered them every opportunity.
There were a few lessons I learned from the different events that happened during this time. The first was that I shouldn’t dislike someone because of someone else’s decision. It wasn’t Scott Hubbard’s decision not to let labor crew hands apply for the testing positions. I saw the same thing happen at the gas plant in Harrah, Oklahoma when Mel Woodring became the foreman ahead of obviously more qualified electricians. The general feeling was to dislike Mel, but who was it that picked him? Mel didn’t have anything to do with that decision. He was a pawn in an effort to move him out of the Muskogee Plant.
The second was that no matter how much you think you are indispensable, you aren’t. We all knew the saying that if you want to find out how important you are, just put your hand into a bucket of water and pull it out and see what kind of hole you leave. That’s how important you are. — Well…. Archimedes would disagree with this assessment given that the water level in the bucket changed, but that wasn’t the point.
Third, Job Security? What’s that? A Power plant probably still has more job security than most other jobs.
The fourth lesson I learned was that when your friend has decided to make a dumb decision, no matter how much it is going to hurt them in the long run, after you have tried to convince them not to take that route, you have to stand by them as much as possible. I have had some friends in the past make really stupid decisions in their lives. No matter how dumb it is…. remain their friend. How much of a friend are you if you cut and run because of their bad decisions? Like my friend Bob Ray reminds me often…. “You can’t fix stupid.” No. You can’t. But you can be there to help when needed.
Comments from Previous post:
During the major overhaul on Unit 1 during the spring of 1994 in retrospect, there were signs that something similar to the downsizing at the Oklahoma Electric company that had happened in 1988 was coming around again. The reason the company had to downsize was a little hard to swallow, but they were real. We had painted ourselves into a corner. The punishment was a downsizing (D-Day). The reason was that we had been very successful. The outcome was ironic.
I will save the details of the 1994 downsizing for a post in a few weeks. In this post, I want to talk about the Power Plant Men, and how we all played an important part in bringing the demise of 50% of our own workforce. I will also mention some of the True Power Plant Men that were let go because of the tremendous accomplishments achieved by those very same men.
Let me give you the rundown on the downsizing first before I list those Power Plant Men and Women who were “let go”.
At some point during the major overhaul we were led into the main break room and it was explained to us that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission had decided to lower the electric rates for our customers. At that time, we were selling electricity just about as cheap as anyone in the mid-west. It was explained to us that the Corporation Commission had studied our operation costs (using outdated data) and had decided that we no longer required the 5 cents per kilowatthour we were charging our customers and we would only be able to charge 4 cents from now on (I’m rounding I think). This was a 20 percent reduction in our revenue.
The majority of our costs were fuel and taxes. We couldn’t really reduce these costs (except for the obvious reduction in taxes that result from a lower revenue). The only place we really could cut costs was in personnel. It was a drop in the bucket compared to our other costs, but in order to produce electricity, we couldn’t really do without things like fuel, and transmission costs, etc. and the government wasn’t going to lower our taxes.
An early retirement package was presented to anyone 50 years old and older by a certain date. They could leave with full retirement benefits. The rest? Well, we had to wait our fate which was to take place on August 1, 1994 (or more precisely, the previous Friday, July 29).
This was the major overhaul where the man had been engulfed in ash in the precipitator hopper (see the post: “Tragedy Occurs During Power Plant Safety Meeting“) and I had to meet with the man from OSHA (see the post: “The OSHA Man Cometh“). The meeting in the break room took place about two weeks after our meeting with the Department of Labor in Oklahoma City (see the post: “Power Plant Men Summoned by Department of Labor“).
So, why do you think that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission thought that we were able to reduce our cost so drastically all of the sudden? We were guaranteed by law a 10% profit as we could not set the cost for our own electricity. This was controlled by the government. We just presented to them our operating costs and they figured out the rest. So, why did they think we could suddenly produce electricity cheaper than any other electric company in the country? Were we really that good?
I could point out that there was an election coming up for one of the members on the Corporation Commission, and this would be something under his belt that he could use to win re-election, but that would only be speculation. The truth was, we couldn’t maintain a 10% profit for our shareholders if we could only charge our customers 4 cents per kilowatthour.
Just as an example, in 1993, the electric company had made $2.72 per share for the shareholders, while by May 1994, we had only made $2.60 Though revenue had gone up by $29 million. This was only a 7% profit based on the revenue. The quarter after the first rate reduction (yeah, there were two) lowered the shareholder return to $2.12.
A year before the downsizing was announced the company had attempted to change their culture so that we could compete in a world where we didn’t have protected areas where we were guaranteed customers. We had instituted the “Quality Process”. I explained this in the post: “A Change for Power Plant Men to Show Their Quality“. One of the major goals for this change in “attitude” was to make us more competitive with other electric companies. Well, even though we didn’t really like that the cost reduction was coming before we were ready, one way or the other, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was going to hold us to that goal.
When describing some of the events that took place during this time, and discuss some of those Power Plant Men that were lost from our view, I feel like I should have some appropriate music playing in the background to express some sorrow for our own loss. So, take a few minutes and listen to this song before proceeding, because, it sets the mood for what I am about to say:
For those who can’t view the youtube link, here is a direct link: “Always On My Mind”
As could be expected, all the Power Plant Men were on edge since we were getting ready for another downsizing. We didn’t know how far down we were downsizing at the time, so we thought that by early retiring everyone 50 years and older, that this would take care of our plant. After all, we had a lot of old fogies wandering around. In the electric shop alone we had four who took the early retirement package (Mike Rose, Bill Ennis, Ted Riddle and O.D. McGaha). Bill Bennett, our A foreman and Tom Gibson our Electric Supervisor were also retiring. So, we were already losing 6 of the 16 people in our department. I’m sure each group was doing their own calculations.
As I mentioned above, I will not dwell so much on the actual downsizing here other than to mention that it became clear that every attempt to help the company out by reducing cost through the quality process was not going to be applied to our bottom line. It was going straight into the customer’s pocket, and maybe it should. This did lower the incentive to be efficient if our company didn’t see a direct Return On Investment, but at this point, it was a matter of surviving.
I wasn’t so concerned about my friends that were taking the early retirement package. Even though their long term plans were suddenly changed, they still were not left empty handed. It was those Power Plant Men that were let go that were too young to retire that I missed the most. I will list some here. I regret that I don’t have their pictures, because, well, this was just at the start of the World Wide Web, and people didn’t take digital pictures back then.
Some of the welders that I missed the most were Duane Gray, Opal Ward (previously Brien), Jim Grant, J.D. Elwood and Donnie Wood. Mike Crisp was the one Machinist that I missed the most. I don’t remember if Jerry Dale was old enough to take the retirement package.
Jerry Dale always seemed to have a positive attitude. One of the phrases I remember when thinking of Jerry was when he was driving me home when I was a summer help. Sonny Kendrick was in the truck with us. We had come upon a car that was travelling rather slow in Hwy 177. Jerry grabbed the handle to shift into a different gear and asked me if he should put it into overdrive and just drive over the car. For some reason, the look of total satisfaction when he said that has always stuck in my mind (or as Willie Nelson says, “You were always on my mind”).
Wayne Griffith was a dear friend that was on the Labor Crew (see the post: “Wayne Griffith and the Power Plant Computer Club“). He was let go along with Gail Mudgett.
We lost both janitors, John Fry (a friend to everyone. I recently wrote a post about John, “Power Plant Janitor John Fry Standing Guard as Floors Dry“) and Deanna Frank. Charlotte Smith from the warehouse found a job at Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.
The mechanics lost the most, because there were more of them, A few of these were able to transfer to other areas in the company but most of them were let go. Here is the list of mechanics that were gone after August 1, 1994: Two Toms, Tom Flanagan and Tom Rieman, I think they both found jobs in other areas, as did Preston Jenkins and Ken Conrad (who used to call me “Sweet Pea”) See the post “Ken Conrad Dances with a Wild Bobcat“. Mike Grayson was let go. I still remember the first day Mike arrived when I was a summer help. He was there when we were fighting the dragon (See the post: “Where Do Knights of the Past Go to Fight Dragons Today“).
Two other mechanics who were greatly missed were Martin Prigmore (because without him, we didn’t have a certified P&H crane operator… kind of overlooked that one), and Tony Talbott who was the kindest Power Plant Man from Perry, Oklahoma. Martin Prigmore was later shot to death in Morrison Oklahoma in an encounter with his wife’s former husband.
The Instrument and Controls department lost Bill Gregory and Glen Morgan.
A side story about Glen Morgan (or was it Nick Gleason? Someone can correct me). One day, someone at the plant was listening to a Tulsa Radio Station when the news came on and said that the police were looking for Glen Morgan because he had just robbed a bank in Tulsa. They said that he was from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and they described his car. Whoever heard the radio told Glen that he was wanted for robbing a bank in his red car. So, he called home and asked his wife to look in the garage to see if his car was still there. It was. So, he quickly called the Tulsa police department and let them know that they had the wrong man.
Gary Wehunt was the one electrician that was let go. He had thought he was going to be picked 7 years earlier at the first downsizing. The one accomplishment that he was most proud of when he left was that he didn’t have any sick leave left over. He always made sure to take it as soon as he had accumulated a day.
I won’t list the operators that were downsized because I couldn’t tell which ones were old enough to retire or not and who was actually let go, if any. Maybe Dave Tarver can add that as a comment below (I will discuss Gerald Ferguson’s crew in an upcoming post). — Thanks Dave (see Dave’s comment below). Jim Kanelakos (which I remembered vividly) and Jack Delaney.
I do know that this was the second downsizing that Gene Day was old enough to retire, but he never took the package. Everyone knew he was as old as dirt, but for the obvious reason that everyone wanted to have him around for comic relief, no one ever considered the Power Plant could function without him. So, he stayed around for many years.
One thing about working in the Power Plant was that people were rarely fired. When it did happen, alcohol was usually involved. Sometimes a disability, such as was the case with Yvonne Taylor and Don Hardin.
About a year and a half before the downsizing one of the welders, Randy Schultz was let go because he repeatedly showed up to work intoxicated. I don’t remember the details, but it did seem that he spent a lot of time sleeping in one of the old Brown and Root warehouses in order to sober up. The company had to special order a hardhat for Randy because his head was too big for a standard hardhat. Randy was later wounded by a gun shot in Stillwater Oklahoma during a fight in the middle of the night.
Doug Link showed up one night a couple of months before the downsizing for a “Condenser Party” (when one of the condensers is open while the unit is still online, and it is cleaned out). Doug was ordering the workers to go into the condenser before all the safety precautions had been taken. He had been drinking. This was the night that I took Ray Eberle out to the Substation to light up the fluorescent bulbs (“See the post: “Switching in the Power Plant Substation Switchyard“).
I knew at the time that Doug was going through some hard times at home. I was sorry to see him go. He was one of the few engineers that took the time to listen to my incessant ramblings on just about any topic. I was glad to learn that after a very difficult time, Doug picked himself back up and regained his integrity.
Whether a person is laid off or fired, the results can be devastating. A person’s self-worth is suddenly shaken which throws the family into turmoil. The Power Plant Men and Women that were left at the plant after the downsizing knew this, and we were forever changed by the loss of such a large number of friends that we considered family all at once. It took us a couple of years to deal with the emotional impact. Even to this day, I do my best to keep them on “always on my mind”.
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Originally posted November 30, 2013:
While I worked as a janitor at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma the subject came up one Monday morning about the normal career path that janitors could take. We had already been told that the only place a janitor could advance to was the labor crew. We had been told that there was a company policy that came down from Oklahoma City that only allowed janitors to move to the labor crew before they could move on to another job like an Operator or Mechanic.
I had been trying to decide if I wanted to go the route of being an Operator or a Mechanic during my time as a janitor. That is, until Charles Foster asked me if I would be interested in becoming an Electrician.
I had begun my studies to learn about being an electrician when there was an opening in the Electric Shop. Charles Foster and Bill Bennett petitioned to hire me for the position, but the verdict came down from above that according to Company Policy, a janitor could only advance from janitor to the labor crew.
I didn’t have any expectation at the time of becoming an electrician given that I had no experience, so I wasn’t disappointed when Mike Rose was hired from outside the company. He was hired to help out Jim Stevenson with Air Conditioning and Freeze Protection.
The next revelation about our position as janitor at the plant (and I’m sure that Ron Kilman, our next plant manager, who reads this blog can testify that it really was company policy…. after all…. that’s what our plant manager told us. — Just kidding…. I know that it really wasn’t), was that when it became our turn to move from being a janitor to moving to the labor crew, if we didn’t move to the labor crew during the next two openings on the labor crew, then we would be let go. I mean… we would lose our job.
This revelation came about when Curtis Love was next in line to go to the labor crew and he was turned down. Larry Riley, the foreman of the labor crew had observed Curtis while we were being loaned to the labor crew during outages and he didn’t want him on the crew for um…. various reasons. After Curtis had been turned down, he was later told that if he didn’t move onto the labor crew when there was another opening, then the company had to fire him. It was company policy (so we were told…. from Corporate Headquarters).
I had been around the plant long enough to know at that point that when we were told that it was company policy that came down to us from Corporate Headquarters, that, unless it was in our binders called General Policies and Practices, then it probably wasn’t really company policy. It was more likely our evil plant manager’s excuse for not taking the responsibility himself and just telling us that this was the way it was, because he just said so….
Anyway… This caused a dilemma from an unlikely source on our team of janitors. Doris Voss became worried that if she didn’t move onto the labor crew, that she would lose her job. She was quite content at the time to have just stayed a janitor, but from this policy that had just come down from Corporate Headquarters, (i.e. The front corner office of our plant), she either had to go to the labor crew, or lose her job.
So, what Doris decided to do was to apply for the job of receptionist that had just been vacated by Grant Harned (see the post “Power Plant Carpooling Adventures with Grant Harned“). Doris applied for the job and her application was accepted. She moved on to work at the receptionist desk. I, on the other hand, was next in line behind Curtis Love. So, when he was turned down for the labor crew, I took his place.
As a side note, I talked Larry Riley into letting Curtis Love advance to the labor crew when there was another opening. I told him that I would let him work with me, and that I would take care of him. With that caveat, Larry agreed. You can read a couple of adventures I had with Curtis after he arrived on the labor crew by reading these posts: “Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love” and “Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door“. Later, however, when I had moved on to be an electrician, Curtis was let go after having a vehicle accident and not reporting it right away.
What does this have to do with the EEOC shuffle? Well… about the time I have moved on to the labor crew, a new company-wide policy had been put in place for the internal “Employee Job Announcement Program”. Our power plant had some “irregularities” surrounding where our new employees were coming from. It seems that an inordinate amount of new employees were coming from Pawnee, and more particularly from a certain church. It was obvious to some that a more “uniform” method needed to be in place to keep local HR staff from hiring just their buddies.
Along with this, came a mandated that all external job announcements had to be sent to various different unemployment offices in a certain radius in order to guarantee that everyone that was interested had the opportunity to be informed about any new positions at the plant well in time to apply for it. That was, if the Internal job announcement program didn’t find any viable candidates within the company that was willing to take the job.
EEOC, by the way, means, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Around the same time that our plant had hired a “snitch” to go around an entrap unsuspecting employees into illegal activities (see the post: “Power Plant Snitch“), the EEOC had given us notice that we were not hiring enough women and American Indians as well as African Americans at the plant. Not only did we lack number, we also needed to have them spread out into a number of different jobs in the plant.
At the time the operators were 100% male. No women. The maintenance shop had a couple of women. The rest of the women at the plant were either clerks, working for the warehouse, or in the HR department…. Which all incidentally reported up to Jack Ballard our HR Supervisor. Well. Except for Yvonne Taylor in the Chemistry lab, and maybe someone that was on the testing team and of course Summer Goebel who was a Plant Engineer.
It wasn’t just women that were affected. We had to have an African American in Upper Management. Bill Bennett had become an A Foreman a few years earlier, and there was some discussion about whether they could promote him up one more level. He refused the offer. Later they decided that an A Foreman at our plant was high enough to be considered “upper management”.
American Indians were also a group of employees that needed to fill a certain quota. The Power Plant was located in North Central Oklahoma with many Indian Reservations surrounding it. I think we were supposed to have more than 10% American Indians employed at the plant. So the front office asked everyone to check to see if they were Indian enough to be considered. I think if you were 1/16th American Indian, you counted in the quota.
Some people were a little disturbed to be asked to report their racial status in order to fill a quota. Jerry Mitchell told me that he was Indian, but that he never had told anyone and he didn’t want to become a number, so he wasn’t going to tell them. I think we met our quota even without Jerry Mitchell and some others that felt insulted.
At the time, we had over 350 employees at the plant. That meant that we needed 35 women. I think we were closer to 25 when the push to hire more women went into effect.
The problem area that needed the most work was with the operators. Their entire organization had no women and they were told that they needed them. The problem was both structural and operational (yeah…. Operations had an operational problem…. how about that?).
There were two problems with hiring women to be operators. The first one was structural. The operators main base was the Control Room. That’s where their locker room was. That’s where their kitchen was. More importantly that’s where they could all stand around and watch Gene Day perform feats of magic by doing nothing more than standing there being…. well… being Gene Day!
There was only a Power Plant men’s locker room. There were no facilities for women. The nearest women’s rest / locker room was across the main plant in the office area, or downstairs in the Maintenance shop. This presented a logistical problem, especially on days when Gene Day made his special Chili or tortilla soup (Ok, I’m just picking on Gene Day…. We all know Gene never could cook. We loved him anyway).
Either way, there were times when taking a trek across the plant to make it to the nearest restroom was not acceptable. This was solved by building an additional rest / locker room in the control room for women operators. That problem was solved.
The operational problem inherent in operations was that they worked shift work. That is, each week, they shifted the hours they worked. Operators had to be working around the clock. So, one week, they would work from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. Next week they may work from 3pm to 11:30pm, or from 11pm to 7:30am. The plant didn’t have any female applicants for a job where you had to work around the clock.
The EEOC said that wasn’t good enough. We needed to find women to work in operations. This was where Doris Voss became a person of interest.
Doris was asked if she would like to become an operator. Of course, she said no. She really still wanted to be a janitor, but was content being a receptionist. I’m not sure what she was told or was given, but she eventually agreed and moved over to become an operator. Another clerk, Helen Robinson was later coaxed into becoming an operator. Mary Lou Teeman was also hired into the Operations department. I don’t remember if she was a clerk before that, or if she was a new hire. — I do remember that she was the sweetest lady in operations.
Here is a picture that includes Doris Voss:
And here is Helen Robinson:
How is it that Charles Peavler showed up in two pictures? — Oh. Taken at different times. Note that Charles Peavler with the gray shirt in the front row is kneeling on one knee, but Larry Tapp with the blue shirt next to him is standing….. Hey. Larry Tapp may be short, but he’s one of the nicest guys in this picture. I have a story about those two guys on the right side of this picture. Merl Wright and Jack Maloy. I’ll probably include that as a side story in a later post (See the post: “Power Plant Conspiracy Theory“).
With the addition of the three new female operators, the EEOC shuffle was satisfied. We had added a few new female employees from the outside world and everyone was happy. Julienne Alley was added to the Welding shop during this time. The entire maintenance crew would agree that their new “Shop” mother was the best of them all (See the post: “Power Plant Mother’s Day“).
Comment from the Original Post:
I suppose most people remember where they were New Year’s Eve at midnight on Saturday, January 1, 2000. That is a night I will never forget. Some people were hiding in self-made bunkers waiting for the end of the world which never came, others were celebrating at home with their families and friends. I suppose some people went on with their lives as if nothing was different that night. Not my family. My wife and two children spent the night at the Power Plant waiting to see if all of the testing we had performed the last two years had covered all possible failures of the Y2K scare.
A small group of Power Plant Men had been chosen to attend a party with our families in the main conference room at the Power Plant. All the food and drinks were supplied by the company. Our Plant Manager, Bill Green was there. Children were given the opportunity to rest in some other room as it reached their bedtimes.
Two years before this fateful night, the company was in full swing preparing for the Y2K computer disaster that had been foretold by those who knew that many computer systems only used two digits for the year instead of all four. so, when the year 2000 rolled around, it would suddenly show up in the computer as 00, which didn’t compute as a year in some systems. After all, you can’t divide something by 00. Suddenly, the time between events that just happened before midnight and those that happen just after midnight are 100 years apart in the wrong direction.
The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was completed in 1979 and 1980, so, my first thought was that by that time, computers were far enough along to know better. The Instrument and Controls Power Plant Men along with the Plant Engineers decided that the best way to check their systems was to change the clocks on the computers one at a time to just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and see what happens.
I thought that was a pretty ingenious way to go about testing the computer systems. By changing the clock on each system one at a time to New Year’s Eve and watching it roll over to the new Millennium, you learn right away if you have a problem, and you have contained the disaster to one system at a time while you test it. By doing this, it turned out that there was a problem with one system at the Co-Generation plant at the Continental Oil Refinery 20 miles north of the plant.
I wrote a post about the Co-Generation Plant in a previous post: “What Coal-fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery“. When it was discovered that the computer at the Conoco Oil Refinery Power Plant would crash on New Year’s Eve, it was decided that we would just roll the clock back to 1950 (or so), and we wouldn’t have to worry about it for another 50 years. The thought was that by that time, this computer would be replaced.
This was the original thought which caused the Y2K problem in the first place. No one thought in the 1960’s that their computer systems would still be operating when the year 2000 came around, so they didn’t bother to use four digits for the year. Disk space was expensive at that time, and anything that could save a few bytes was considered an improvement instead of a bug.
My wife wasn’t too pleased when I told her where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve when Y2K rolled around, but then again, where would you rather be if a worldwide disaster happened and the electricity shutdown across the country? I would think the Power Plant would be the best place. You could at least say, “I was in the actual Control Room at a Power Plant watching them throw the switch and light up Oklahoma City!” Besides, we usually spent New Year’s Eve quietly at home with our kids.
Even though we were fairly certain everything had been accounted for, it was the unknown computer system sitting out there that no one had thought about that might shut everything down. Some system in a relay house in a substation, or some terrorist attack. So, there we sat watching the New Year roll in on a big screen TV at one end of the break room. Children’s movies were being shown most of the evening to keep the young occupied while we waited.
I thought that Jim Arnold, the Supervisor over the Maintenance Department, wanted me in the break room at the Power Plant so that he could keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be causing trouble that night. Jim never really trusted me…. I suppose that was because strange things would happen when I was around. Of course, I would never do anything that would jeopardize the operation of the Power Plant, but that didn’t stop me from keeping Jim guessing.
No. Not really. I was there because I had a way with computers. I was the computer go to person at the plant, and if anything happened to any of them, I would probably be the person that could whisper it back into service. Also, if for some reason the Generators tripped, I was a switchman that could open and close switches in the substation and start the precipitator back up and run up to the top of the boiler if the boiler elevator broke down and get it started back up.
Except for my natural affinity for computers, any of the electricians in the Power Plant could do all those other things. I think there was just a little “prejudice” left over about me from when Bill Bennett our past A foreman used to say, “Let Kevin do it. He doesn’t mind getting dirty” (or…. he likes to climb the boiler, or…. he likes confined spaces, or… Kevin likes to stay up at all hours of the night working on things… I could go on… that was Bill’s response when someone asked him who should do the really grimy jobs — of course… to some degree…. he was usually right).
I was actually a little proud to be told that I was going to have to spend New Year’s Eve at the Power Plant. I had almost 17 years of experience as a Power Plant Electrician at that time, and I felt very comfortable working on any piece of equipment in the plant. If it was something I had never worked on before, then I would quickly learn how it worked… As I said, all the electricians in the plant were the same way. It was our way of life.
At 11:00 pm Central Time, we watched as the ball dropped in Time Square in New York City. The 10 or so Power Plant Men with their families sat in anticipation waiting…. and waiting… to see if the lights went out in New York…. Of course you know now that nothing happened, but we were ready to jump into a crisis mode if there were any reports of power failures across the country.
You see…. The electric grid on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is all connected together. If the power grid were to go down in one area, it could try dragging down the rest of the country. If protective relays in substations across the country don’t operate flawlessly, then a blackout occurs in a larger area than just one particular area covered by one electric company.
When relays operate properly, a blackout is contained in the smallest area possible. There was only one problem…. Breakers in substations are now controlled by remote computer systems. If those systems began to act erratic, then the country could have a problem. This did not happen that night.
There was a contract worker in the engineering department at our plant who was at his home in the country during this time hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the end of the world as was foretold by the minister of this church. He had purchased a large supply of food and water and had piled them up in his shelter along with a portable generator. He and his family waited out the end of the world that night waiting for the rapture. He told me about that a few months later. He was rather disappointed that the world hadn’t ended like it was supposed to. He was so prepared for it.
After 11 pm rolled around and there was no disaster on the east coast, things lightened up a bit. I decided to take my son and daughter on a night tour of the plant. So, we walked over to the control room where they could look at the control panels with all of the the lights and alarms. Here is a picture of Jim Cave and Allen Moore standing in front of the Unit 1 Control Panel:
Then I took each of them up to the top of the Boiler where you could look out over the lake at night from a view 250 feet high. The Power Plant becomes a magical world at night, with the rumbling sounds from the boiler, the quiet hissing of steam muffled by the night. The lights shining through the metal structure and open grating floors.
From the top of the boiler, you could look south and see the night lights from Stillwater, Pawnee and Perry. Looking north, you could see Ponca City and the Oil Refinery at Conoco (later Phillips). The only structure taller than the boilers are the smoke stacks. There was always a special quality about the plant at night that is hard to put your finger on. A sort of silence in a world of noise. It is like a large ship on the ocean. In a world of its own.
We returned to the break room 20 minutes before midnight, where our plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold tested their radios with the Control Room to make sure we were all in contact with each other. I had carried my tool bucket up to the break room in case I needed to dash off somewhere in a hurry.
We felt confident by this time that a disaster was not going to happen when the clock rolled over to midnight. When the countdown happened, and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 counted down, We cheered “Happy New Year!” and hugged one another. I think both of my children had dozed off by this point.
Bill Green called the control room. The word came back that everything was business as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary. We waited around another hour just to make sure that nothing had shutdown. By 1:00 am on January 1, 2000, Bill Green gave us the Green Light. We were all free to return to our homes.
I gathered up my two children and my wife Kelly, and we drove the 25 miles back home to the comfort of our own beds. When we went to bed early that morning after I had climbed into bed, I reached over and turned off the light on my nightstand. When the light went out, it was because I had decided to turn it off. Not because the world had suddenly come to an end. A new Millennium had just begun.